Thursday, February 13, 2014

Degenerate Art: Odd Future, Immigration New Zealand, and me

The Nazis called it entartete Kunst -- degenerate art. Art the state doesn't like, and therefore the art in question should be banned.  And even the artists themselves, which is what the government of New Zealand just decided with concern to the Los Angeles-based hip hop collective, Odd Future.

You can read about their ban in the Guardian and many other press outlets, all of which seem to be based on the original AP article, which also mentions my ban from New Zealand last August.

I woke up this morning at 6 as I often do, to make breakfast and take several children to school on the other side of town.  Looked at my phone and got a Google Alert that my name was in the news.  (Yes, I'm vain.  I'm a professional musician.)  Clicked on the link, and my head was flooded with memories of the same thing happening to me.

Immigration New Zealand's public line, that the band posed a threat to public order because they had supposedly threatened public order in the past, such as at an event in Boston, is nonsense.  No threat to public order occurred, which is clear if you look into the incident in question for a few minutes, aside from nearby members of the public being inconvenienced by a crowd gathering outside of a comic book store because it was too big to fit all of the band's fans who wanted to get in.  This sort of thing is par for the course with any band that gets hundreds of millions of viewers on YouTube and appears regularly on MTV.  (Probably even happened to Lorde herself!)

But a threat to the sensibilities of certain elements of Kiwi society, such as the current administration?  Now that seems much more likely.  But this is scary stuff, and should worry New Zealanders, and supporters of freedom of expression everywhere.  If Odd Future is going to be banned, then what's to stop INZ from banning half of the other hip hop acts in the world, who rap on the same over-the-top, hyper-sexual, sometimes politically militant themes as Odd Future?

As disconcerting as the fact of the group being banned from entering the country is the way it happened.  As the band's manager reported in various press accounts, they were called by INZ an hour before they were going to board their flight, and told they wouldn't be allowed in.

In Odd Future's case, all of their paperwork was in order.  In fact, they had work visas already (and US citizens don't even need a visa to enter New Zealand if they're doing so as a tourist).  But an hour before boarding, long after their plans to perform at a festival in Auckland were made and plane tickets bought, their visas were revoked.

When I was banned from entering New Zealand it was the same kind of thing, except instead of an hour, it was more like a half hour before boarding, and the call came to me via the cell phone of an airline employee at Narita Airport in Japan.  In my case, I admittedly hadn't lined up a temporary work visa yet, but the immigration agent made it abundantly clear that I was being banned from entering New Zealand on the basis of my blog posts that made reference to marijuana and border-crossing troubles.

In my case, I had the nagging thought afterward that I still have now, that perhaps if I had all my paperwork in order, they wouldn't have had an excuse to keep me out of the country.  If I were a member of Odd Future I might be thinking something similar.  Perhaps if someone hadn't called the cops at that appearance in Boston, INZ wouldn't have had an excuse to turn them away.

But what seems increasingly evident from the mounting number of similar incidents of artists being prevented from entering New Zealand is that INZ is looking for excuses to ban artists the establishment doesn't like.

Unlike in my case, it doesn't look like Odd Future is hurting for cash.  But my one bit of financial advice to them would be that if they booked the plane tickets on Air New Zealand, being banned from entering the country by immigration at the last minute is a rare example of something that is grounds for a full refund on the unused portion of your tickets.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"America the Beautiful"

Here's my contribution to the discussion resulting from Coca-Cola's multilingual "America the Beautiful" Superbowl commercial. Dedicated to whatever disgusting corporation runs the Live95.5 pop music station that my daughter and her little friends that we drive to school with most days like to listen to.

"America the Beautiful"

America is beautiful but it's got a lot of ugly people
I heard one of them this morning on the radio
He interrupted the pop music programming
To tell us what he thought we needed to know
He said America is an English-speaking country
And that Coke commercial was just all wrong
You can't interrupt an all-American football game
To have little brown girls sing an all-American song

He said America is beautiful but it's only got one language
The one we inherited from the King
Although the king himself spoke German and the French helped us overthrow him
But I still don't want to hear those girls sing
He said it and I wondered if it reminded him
Of his grandparents who were probably refugees
From Finland or Italy or Lithuania
Or perhaps from Belarus or Germany

Or perhaps they came from Ireland where they fought for generations
To try to speak the language of their birth
And now their red-faced son is shouting English is the language
In this little stolen corner of the Earth
Not Navajo or Lakota, not Tagalog or Spanish
But the language of those who came out on top
Not the language of the conquered or the ones who were here first
But the language of the ones who run the shop

America is beautiful, it would be silly to deny it
If you've seen the forests or the mountains capped with snow
But as I left my Japanese wife to drive to the French school
With a carpool full of gorgeous kids in tow
Who all sang along to Katy Perry and then listened to this bigot
Tell us this is an English-speaking nation
I don't know what the kids thought but I said this guy's a fascist
And we all agreed to change the station